john August 3rd, 2008
- Ho Che Anderson
- ISBN: 1560976225
Anderson’s work chronicles the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., from boyhood as a son of a pastor to his increasing prominence as an agitator for civil rights, to his assassination in Memphis. Unlike many works on King, this one does not present him as a saint, instead painting him as a bold and eloquent speaker who is also a womanizer, more than a little vain, and occasionally forced to compromise against his better judgment.
The story is somewhat episodic, presenting relevant events and maintaining them long enough to give a sense of history and import, then leaving them as soon as the purpose is served–in many cases in the middle of a conversation or even the middle of a sentence.
The book is notable not only for its even treatment of King but also for its considerable research and its general historical accuracy, including its mention of COINTELPRO and police brutality and its representation of schisms with strikingly different views on how to proceed towards civil rights and even whether the struggle is worth it.
Still I suspect that at least one of the conversations in the book is fictionalized–the private discussion between JFK and MLK while walking through the gardens at the White House–but the work as a whole remains both educational and entertaining as well as emotionally involving.
Anderson’s art takes a number of different styles, starting off fairly stark and realistic (as shown above) and introducing splashes of color and increasing experimentation as the story continues. The layouts become more fluid and vivid as the artwork ranges from iconic, approaching abstract, to paintings made over photographs. The final section of the book is remarkable for its intensity as the Memphis hotel nears: the art is impressive but also very much in service of the story.
In spite of these strengths the book does have its flaws, including a half-dozen typos, mostly in the middle of the book, and one of them inexcusably during the “I Have a Dream” speech (specifically, the mention of “farmer slaves”).
The book remains worth reading: the writing is compelling and the art shows a talented and creative mind at work taking no artistic choice for granted.